This article is a silver award-winner in a Bay Area Travel Writers awards competition.
Whenever I visit West Marin, I am always surprised to rediscover how quickly accessible it is. What can be easier than getting off busy 101 in Corte Madera and taking Sir Francis Drake Boulevard all the way to Highway 1 in Olema? The distance is only about 20 miles, with the road narrowing to two lanes and traffic getting lighter and lighter until you find yourself in Pt. Reyes Station, where the parking is free and easy even on a Sunday.
That's exactly where my husband and I found ourselves on a sunny Sunday, parked in front of Toby's Feed Barn. Toby's always has big, hard-to-resist bags of bright oranges in a bin out front and plenty of intriguing gift items inside, along with the expected feed and paraphernalia for farm and domestic animals. I was relieved to see that my two other favorite town shops were still in business across the street: Black Mountain Weavers, which sells spectacular one-of-a-kind items from local craftspeople; and Zuma, which sells exotic and unusual crafts and ethnic arts.
After backtracking a few blocks we continued west on Sir Francis Drake into Inverness, where we would spend the night. But check-in wasn't until 4 p.m, so we set off for the Historic Pierce Point Ranch area of Point Reyes National Seashore to see the tule elk.
Along the way, the restive scenery includes glimpses of Tomales Bay. We turned off into Tomales Bay State Park to visit Hearts Desire Beach but decided not to pay the $6 fee for parking, and instead just stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the sight and sound of an irritated pea hen that was delighting children.
Back at the entrance to the park, we took Pierce Point Road and headed toward Tomales Point and the Tule Elk Reserve. On the way, we passed historic ranch after historic ranch. Once part of a Mexican land grant, they now they are leased from the park. Signs indicate that many of the cows provide milk to the Clover brand, and it is quite reassuring to see them out there in the wide-open, green spaces instead of stuffed into a dirt feedlot. We started seeing the occasional tule elk way off in the distance.
Just before arriving at the Historic Pierce Point Ranch parking lot, we lucked onto an entire herd of elk on the side of the road. We pulled over and watched, minus our binoculars, which I had unfortunately removed from our car a few days before, but with a camera, which it turned out had a dead battery. I decided not to try to change the battery then, because the elk were moving and I wanted to at least see them if I wasn't going to capture them on film. I was most surprised by their cute round ears. After the elk wandered up onto a ridge, we parked our car under mature eucalyptus in the parking lot and walked up to explore the abandoned ranch buildings. We hiked the Tomales Point Trail a ways, too, enjoying the wildflowers and birds.
When I booked our cottage, directions were e-mailed to me. Located down a steep driveway I wouldn't have attempted otherwise, Walt's Cabin fulfilled my inflated expectations. The couch, breakfast table, and white comforter-covered bed all faced a spectacular view of Tomales Bay. We spent a blissful afternoon reading and gazing out at an amazing array of passing birds, including plenty of hawks and small white egrets. Fortunately, the cabin had no TV. But it did have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, so we indulged in hot chocolate made with Clover milk from those happy cows we had seen with our own eyes.
In the morning, when my husband returned from a short walk up to the store to buy a newspaper, he was excited to tell me about the little band of quail he had seen in the bushes outside our cabin. We then enjoyed a simple but delicious breakfast composed of toasted pecan-raisin bread, Straus organic butter, good coffee, half and half from happy Clover cows, bananas and oranges, and dry cereal. It took me forever to finish because I was still so taken by the view and sat mesmerized, watching the glorious morning develop outside. Before our appointed hour to vacate, we took a walk out by the beach, examining a wrecked fishing boat, and then, reluctantly, left.
That day we took a not-quite-straight shot down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Drakes Beach. Driving through terrain reminiscent of England's moors, we again passed ranch after ranch populated with happy cows. Only a few cars were in the lot at the beach, and a lone ranger was busy cleaning restrooms. The tide was in, the fog was out, and the little cafe was closed, so we didn't stay long.
Back in Pt. Reyes Station, we were surprised to see almost as many people in town on a Monday as there had been on Sunday. After a 20-minute wait, we were seated on the patio at the Station House Cafe. It was just this side of chilly, but the sun was out. The food here is always delectable, and I ate every bit of my Niman Ranch pulled-pork sandwich and housemade potato chips, as did my husband eat every bit of his breaded, deep-fried local Johnson's oysters.
Because I was driving, we enjoyed a very slow return to reality. I keep pulling over to let the antsy-pantsys pass. What is their hurry? We were back to four-lane traffic, then, six-lanes, all to fast.
Cottages on the Beach
Point Reyes Lodging This lodging association provides information about and books reservations for 17 members. The perfect memento of your getaway? Why the association's A Taste of Point Reyes cookbook, but of course, preferably signed by your innkeeper.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
Ms. Meyers is also the author of “Miles of Smiles: 101 Great Car Games & Activities”
copyright 2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers; updated 2020